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Youth sports build up both kids’ and parents’ character 

Little League’s lasting power

click to enlarge Bridgett Harris: one proud and devoted sports mom. - COURTESY BRIDGETT HARRIS
  • Courtesy Bridgett Harris
  • Bridgett Harris: one proud and devoted sports mom.
When my son entered the third grade, he came home from school one day with the realization that he was an athlete, and that he wished to play every sport the school intramural program had to offer. I, a naive mother of two, thought that this was a great idea. I signed all the papers and settled in for what I thought would be a fairly easy life of Little League and sunflower seeds and post-game snacks.

What I got was quite a bit more time-intensive. All-consuming, to be exact, particularly when his younger sister decided that she also wanted to play in the years that followed.

It’s been seven years since I picked up a tiny football helmet from Craigslist and painstakingly couponed to afford a pair of name-brand cleats that seemed impossibly small for their task. It’s been a hell of a journey, but it’s been good. I once drove five hours one way to watch my son play football for about... 30 seconds every quarter. It was worth it to watch him tackle a kid twice his size and come off the field with a giant grin and a whole lot of pride.

I’ve spent countless hours at wrestling meets surrounded by teen boys and girls marinating in a miasma of sweat and adrenaline. In those hours, I learned that the Vicks-under-the-nose trick is not just for coroners. I’ve been the working mom who showed up late to the volleyball game and sheepishly stuffed a 10-dollar bill into my daughter’s hands for dinner when the game was over and I went back to work. She was just thrilled I showed up, late or otherwise.

My car is a smelly combination of shoes, equipment, portable chairs, bottled water and sunscreen, each readily deployed at a moment’s notice to parts unknown all over Colorado. I’ve dodged fly balls, watched parents yell at refs until they were kicked out, and spent most of the fall and spring wrapped in a sub-zero sleeping bag getting snowed on.

Has it been worth it? That’s an easy answer — a resounding Yes! The why of it, however, is a bit more complicated.

Statistically, the chances of a kid growing up and landing a position in pro sports are minimal, at best. So why spend all of these hours carting them around when it’s highly likely the future use of these skills will be relegated to playing the company softball game or weekend pick-up basketball?

For our family, the benefits of youth sports have proved enormous. Both kids have learned an incredible amount of dedication and self-discipline, as well as a love for healthy activity. While many of their adult counterparts leave the gym without working out because they forgot their headphones at home, the kids and their teammates are spending two to three hours a day working out in their chosen sport, followed by homework (bad grades means no play), followed by chores.

Then there’s the sportsmanship that gradually shapes who they are as people. The ability to look into the face of someone who has bested you as you shake their hand and congratulate them, or the finesse it takes to be gracious to an opponent you’ve beaten. These are the moments that give me more pride than the hardest-won wrestling match or the most perfectly executed volleyball serve. It’s a glimpse of the adults these kids are becoming, adults I like a whole lot for their empathy, courage and kindness.

They’ve also learned how to recover from defeat. Watching my kids lose has been heartbreaking. But it’s also been oddly uplifting to watch them work through their sadness and find the strength to try again. By contrast, they’ve also learned that no winning streak lasts forever, so it’s important to temper one’s ego and have some humility. Success is no excuse not to keep working, because there is always someone better than you. You just haven’t met them yet. But you will.

So, a few tips for survival: Getting this level of joy out of such a time-consuming endeavor hasn’t always been easy. I’ve learned a lot in the last few years about making it work for our family. The first lesson? Teamwork applies to parents, too. For maximum survival odds, it’s best to bond with the other team parents. This helps a lot when your kiddo needs a ride or help when you’re not there. It also gives you someone to talk to during the hours you spend watching your kids. Some of my greatest friends are people I’ve met in the bleachers.

It also helps to find great coaches. You may not always have the choice (school sports, for example), but they do truly make all the difference in your child’s experience. And when you do find them? Thank them profusely for the work they do. Coaching is a huge investment of their time and it’s often one that doesn’t pay too well.

Last, do your best to balance your time and your child’s time. If the kids are getting burnt out, they’re no longer receiving the benefits of sports in their lives. Try to take a day off each week to just relax and do nothing but relax. It will help everyone recharge.

For our family, sports have had a lasting and positive impact on parents and kids alike. It’s never been about Olympic dreams. For us, the ultimate reward has been the character, dedication and strength they have found within themselves.

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